Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Eid ul-Adha

Selamat Aidil-Adha to everyone! Here it was one day early than in Singapore (16 Nov). Also known as the Feast of Sacrifice and the Feast of Haj, this Eid is different from the other, post-fasting Eid. During this Eid we remember Prophet Abraham's spirit of sacrifice - he was willing to give up his younger son, Ismael upon the orders of God, and would not let Satan convince him otherwise. This day also marks the end of the Haj, which is the pilgrimage to Mecca.

I usually wake up to pray fajr prayer at 7.30 (sunrise is at about 8am), and my roommate told me that the Indonesian students are meeting at 8am to go to the Turkish mosque together. Clueless as I missed Eid ul-Fitr prayers at ISS earlier this year and I haven't been to any mosque yet, I rushed to get to ISS at 8am, cycling against the wind all the way.

I met Indri and Emmy at the entrance and we started walking to the Turkish mosque, behind Wah Nam Hong, a supermarket in Chinatown. We didn't know the exact address but then we met a Turk with his daughter and he said he was going to the mosque, so we followed them.

At the gates, we started to push through a few Turkish men, and then a few more, some more and at one point I said "Eh, where are the women?" Thinking they might be round the back, we scooted around before an Indonesian brother informed us "Di sini ngga ada cewek, bu," (There are no women here, ma'am).

Another Eid prayer would start at Al-Hikmah (Indonesian language mosque) at 10am so we took Tram 16 and got off at Heeswijkplein. We met Ibu Arti at the tram stop, whom Indri met during Eid ul Fitr prayers a few months ago. I overheard a multilingual conversation between a Dutch man and an Indonesian woman:

- Salam alaikum. Alles goed?
- Alhamdulillah. Met u?

Ladies round the back!
There was one sweet little Dutch-Indonesian boy who didn't want to leave his mum, so he kept holding her hand under the separator (women behind men) and blowing kisses to her. There were also one or two little girls with their fathers in the men's section. It's heartwarming to see children with their parents at the mosque (:

May the pilgrims at Mecca fulfill a meaningful haj and that their pilgrimage is accepted by God, inshallah, so that they are mabrur Hajis and Hajjahs, including my aunt and uncle who are there right now. Ameen.

The Belgians were here

Last Friday, Tine, Thomas, Elke and Sien drove from Belgium to spend a weekend in The Hague. I had two classes so I could only meet them in the evening, but it seems they had fun exploring the little sights here despite the grey weather while I was in school.

It can feel so strange to meet someone you haven't met in 16 months, and trying to pick up where both of you left off. The time in between is too vast to summarise, so what usually happens is picking out certain memories from the time you spent together.

The other half of the Belgian company are such lovely girls, doing wonderful work (resident therapist/counsellor helper with teenagers, and working with refugees), and I'm glad to know such inspiring people.

We didn't really plan the weekend, but there was some hint about going to Cologne, Germany, though that didn't work out. Summarily, this is how we ended up spending the whole weekend in Den Haag:
Walking around the Centrum at night and discovering a party happening in a church. A church! How blasphemous! D: Needless to say, our shock did not let us stay long.
More walking in Clingendael Park. Me, Tine, Sien, Elke. Sien wants to catch rabbits in the forest. I am wearing my all-terrain Mary Janes, not the proper footwear for walking in damp leaves.

On Saturday we welcome Sinterklaas (alias Sint Niklaas or Sint Maarten, depending on which town in Europe) after he comes to Den Haag on a boat and makes his way to the Centrum for a big party. Long, strange story about it for those who haven't heard about him. Briefly, the story goes that he used to be a bishop in what is now known as Turkey and each November he comes to see the children, disembarking from a boat from Spain with a book to tell him which child has been good or bad, accompanied by 6-8 black men, called Piet.

Piet gives out candy, carries a broomstick to spank naughty children, and a sack to put them in and bring them back to Spain! Of course when Sinterklaas finishes his tour through the Centrum he announces that there have been no bad children this year! Hurray!

Then on Sunday we went to Delft! The town of blue and white porcelain. Did you know that painters actually paint in black (middle pot) and the cobalt oxide in the paint turns blue in the oven when baked?

All in all, lovely weekend. Looking forward to visiting new and old friends in Belgium!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Susu pekat manis.

This post is dedicated to a tin of sweetened condensed milk.

So I was giving my blog address to some more people, and they keep asking why it's named so. This is why:

I've seen this tin of condensed milk for as long as I remember. It's also the first image of the Netherlands I got in my head (: So it makes a nostalgic connections between my first conceptions of a foreign country and the country that I'm in now.

Just stop calling me a dutch lady.


I've started a little business here, cutting hair. I put up these flyers all around school, in the hostels and in pigeon holes. It's good fun, requires no capital and makes me feel like I'm paying less rent than I am now, haha.

I've had less than 10 customers so far, but it's great to be able to talk to different people. One of my customers were the daughters of an ISS student, and they could only speak Spanish, coming straight from Venezuela. His wife could also only speak Spanish, and she was incredibly delighted at the poquito Spanish that I can remember from those months in Valencia. The little girls had the thickest, curliest hair I've ever seen! Possibly only rivaled by Moroccan hair.

It's a no-frills cut, for those prices. Since most of my customers are from ISS and live in student housing, I just do it in their rooms, and they wash, dry and sweep up after I'm done.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Modern Singapore.

One of our seniors told us that the things we learn will become much clearer towards the end of the course. Of course, being impatient, I want to understand everything now, but I already start to see what she means. The professor for critical social theory, let's call him R, told us that what we're not learning in ISS, but unlearning. We start to unlearn everything we have taken to be the truth by being critical.

It felt like we are reaching an epiphany, but we're not quite there yet. This feeling started started when we were revising for Social Theory - there were about 5 of us from 4 different countries and we snuck into this classroom in the corner of the building to write notes and mindmaps on the whiteboard. What we realised as we were discussing, was that we had histories in common. We all grew up thinking that the version of history we were fed in school as definitive history, when in fact objective history (As it Happened) can never be known. The history that we learn is a product of the bias of historians. History can also be used to create nations.

There is a notion of a 'homogenous, empty time' which Benjamin Walter talks about. (He's a funny guy by the way, he got funded by the Frankfurt School of critical theory but he's still very into religion and myths, so his writings contain many allusions to the Antichrist and angels, all while he's talking about being wary of modernity.) This concept refers to the idea that history is filled up with memories of the present, in order to explain or justify the present.

So let's take the 'founding' of Singapore, for example. Of course Singapore as the physical island and its inhabitants (not just Orang Laut, but probably other people doing other economic activities as well) existed before 1819. But our history books have taken the arrival of the British, specifically that handsome English gentleman, Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles (I've nothing against him, since he is handsome and I went to his schools, haha.) as the moment where modern Singapore is 'found'. Modernity and presence in the global system is only possible by the presence of the coloniser, the British.

And what did modernity entail? Cutting down our forests and replacing them with rubber plantations, bringing in labour from other countries to work at low wages and terrible conditions, signing a pact with the British in order to become a 'Sultan', and letting our island be the site of political and economic competition with the Dutch.

Sultan Hussein Shah, you were deceived by worldly fame and wealth.

The effects of colonialism can still be felt. At the risk of distilling this too much, I'll just say that the marginalised position of the Malays today is in part due to the favoritist policies of the British during their occupation of Singapore. Granted, this is nowhere near the horrific experience of Africa being depopulated and used as slaves during its colonisation (and my African classmates did get quite emotional during the last tutorial on colonialism).

There is a dark side to modernity and its trappings, and the article I just read by Michael Mann, 'The Dark Side of Democracy', provides loads of really nice examples. We had been talking about a lot of abstract concepts in Social Theory, like how power invested in the state, along with science and technology, are used as 'instruments of domination' to justify racism, social segregation and genocide, even; and I didn't really understand it until I read Mann's article.

I'm not saying that modernity is a bad thing. Clean houses and streets, and good quality education and healthcare comes with modernity and are things everybody wants. But it is important to keep in mind that this modernity did not come naturally, but through the process of colonialism. So the underside of modernity, is coloniality.

Monday, November 1, 2010


Sorry for the lack of posts. It's the end of term and I've 2 more exams to go, today and tomorrow. Had the sociology exam last Friday and while I think I wrote decently, I just realised that I forgot to write any real-life examples. Hopefully the next two exams (Economics and Global Politics) go better, inshallah!

Meanwhile, the weather's changing. The tree outside my window is shedding yellow leaves, and while it's not as cold as last week, the air is damp and there's a beautiful morning mist today.

Back to studying, and I'll post something decent when exams are over (:


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